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the different bourdieus

Bourdieu is everywhere in social theory these days. Ranging from practice theory to studies of taste and consumption, you can find Bourdieu lurking in the background and quite often taking center stage. Bourdieu may be the most blogged-about theorist here on orgtheory. He’s so easily transportable because of the generality of his concepts and because he wrote extensively on so many different things during his career. Given the expanse of his theoretical contributions, it can sometimes be hard to pin down Bourdieu as a theorist. The reason for this, suggests my prolific co-blogger Omar Lizardo in this commentary forthcoming in Sociological Forum, is that Bourdieu’s contributions to American sociology have occurred over various stages, creating multiple clusters of Bourdieuian-influenced theorists. Depending on which cluster you’re a part of, you’re getting a slightly different angle on the Bourdieuian perspective.  I highly recommend reading Omar’s commentary for anyone who thinks they know (or would like to get to know) Bourdieu’s work. It helps put Bourdieu in historical context.

The final stage of Bourdieuian influence, which is an emerging trend Omar admits, is focused on embodiment, cognition, and action. Although he doesn’t mention it in the essay, I have noticed that a strong community in institutional theory has really grabbed on to this this aspect of Bourdieu. Institutional theory in the late 80s through the mid-90s was heavily influenced by Bourdieu’s field theory (Omar’s stage 2 of Bourdieuian influence), but in recent years institutional theorists have become less interested in the constraining aspects of field forces and more interested in how institutional change bubbles up from below, which places more emphasis on agency and reflexive cognition. Scholars interested in institutional entrepreneurship and institutional work (for example, read Lawrence, Suddaby, and Leca), in particular, seem to be drawing more and more from Bourdieu’s theory of practice.  The attractiveness of practice theory is that you don’t have to completely shed your structural view of institutions and fields to develop an endogenous explanations for how people create local worlds of resistance and novelty. Although I think it’s fair to question how well executed many of these studies are, I’ve noticed that a large portion of institutional theory has moved from stage 2 in Omar’s depiction of Bourdieu to stage 3.

Perhaps this is the reason why I’ve heard so many grumblings from people in the institutional theory world about Fligstein’s and McAdam’s work on “strategic action fields.” The F&M conceptualization of institutions and change is still very stage 2 in its understanding of how actors are situated in a field and how fields evolve over time. But this no longer resonates with many institutional theorists, who have already moved beyond this conceptualization of institutions to a stage 3 model in which actors are embedded in multiple fields and possess more agency than the actors of a fixed field world. While the former view is more structural and deterministic, the latter view is more cognitive and stochastic. F&M do very little to bridge stage 2 with stage 3 Bourdieu (although one could argue, but they don’t, that the concept of “social skill” derives from practice theory).

For more orgtheory commentary on Fligstein’s and McAdam’s SAF, see here and here.

Written by brayden king

January 16, 2012 at 5:47 pm

10 Responses

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  1. Jost Sieweke at Duesseldorf is doing some interesting work in this regard. He has a very nice working paper on the microfoundations of mimesis and institutionalization that covers an intimidating amount of literature across the social and cognitive sciences which makes similar points (here). The always sharp Alan Warde at Manchester was on to this a while ago (see here). The only problem with this literature so far is that it is necessarily metatheoretical, so people will (rightly) complain that there’s no substantial empirical payoff (although empirical studies are beginning to cumulate). I would characterize it as a high/risk, high/payoff theoretical futures market with some non-negligible amount of uncertainty.

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    Omar

    January 16, 2012 at 6:06 pm

  2. Great article, Omar, thanks! It raises an issue for me, that maybe you’d speak on? (And maybe the question is a stupid or already-answered one.)

    My main concern is research — how to do it? In something like a social ‘field’ (or any sociological subject) the data are seemingly endless, I would argue infinite. Which data to analyze?

    Does Bourdieu have a coherent program to answer this question? (I sometimes think he does, at least more so than any other sociologist. And I am thinking of the analytical model found in Social Structures of the Economy. A model that I will very crudely paraphrase as: habitus+capital+symbolic power=field.)

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    Austen

    January 16, 2012 at 8:59 pm

  3. Omar, I’ve got a doctor’s appt when you’re speaking at uchicago but I’ll try to reschedule it. Is this paper related to the talk in anything more than the broadest sense?

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    Michael Bishop

    January 17, 2012 at 10:31 pm

  4. Michael: No, I wrote that at the request of Karen, so it wasn’t planned. The talk should be a separate rant.
    Austen: Bourdieu was fairly pragmatic when it came to methodology and he tried a bit of everything. I think this has been a healthy part of the whole thing, since it has prevented a collapse of field theory under some sort of invidious methodological thought collective (as happened with ethnomethodology). Fields have been analyzed using the entire panoply of tools (ethnography, comparative, quantitative). That doesn’t mean that measurement challenges don’t remain outstanding. Fligstein et al are throwing a “Quantification and Fields” conference at Berkeley this April that I’m hoping to attend, so stay tuned.

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    Omar

    January 17, 2012 at 10:39 pm

  5. Question from young desperate grad student. Where should one start with reading Bourdieu? What about good primers, etc?

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    Jessica Smith

    January 18, 2012 at 2:23 pm

  6. Thank you for this posting. As a fresh graduate on sociology, I got tuned to this fairly critical view to introduce wide-ranges of Bourdoeu theory on sociology in which he’s come over in many fields during his career.

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    Bernando J. Sujibto

    January 18, 2012 at 2:36 pm

  7. Bourdieu and Wacquant (1992) for the horse’s mouth. Best introductory secondary treatment (meaning least misleading) is probably Swartz (1997). In some respect, although dated, there is still nothing as good as Brubaker (1985) and DiMaggio (1979). Wacquant’s article on Habitus in the International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology is a must as is his chapter on the Key Thinkers series.

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    Omar

    January 18, 2012 at 2:41 pm

  8. thanks omar!

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    Jessica Smith

    January 19, 2012 at 1:42 pm

  9. “Institutional theory in the late 80s through the mid-90s was heavily influenced by Bourdieu’s field theory (Omar’s stage 2 of Bourdieuian influence), […] Perhaps this is the reason why I’ve heard so many grumblings from people in the institutional theory world about Fligstein’s and McAdam’s work on “strategic action fields.” The F&M conceptualization of institutions and change is still very stage 2 in its understanding of how actors are situated in a field and how fields evolve over time.”

    Someone indicated that the SAF paper has been work in progress since 1992.

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    phnk

    January 26, 2012 at 4:44 pm

  10. […] See previous orgtheory discussion of Theory of Fields here and here. […]

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